Petco is being sued by a California family for the death of their 10-year-old son after he contracted “rat-bite fever,” a bacterial infection. The lawsuit was filed on Monday in San Diego County.
On June 11, 2013 Aidan Pankey woke up in the night to a high fever and sharp stomach pains. The boy had difficultly walking and was faint, according to the lawsuit. He died the next morning at 1:09am. The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the cause of death as streptobacillus moniliformis, better known as “rat-bite fever.”
The boy’s grandmother had bought him a pet rat on May 25, 2013 from Petco. He had wanted the new rat, whom he named Alex, to be a companion for his pet female rat. Less than a month later, the boy had died from an infection contracted through rats. The Pankey family is suing Petco for an undetermined amount for suffering caused by the death of their only son.
In a statement Petco responded, “We are deeply saddened by the… tragic loss. The…safety of people and pets is always a…priority, and we take the…concerns very seriously.” The company also expressed they were involved in investigating these claims and would respond further when more information becomes available.
“Rat-bite fever,” according to the Centers for Disease Control, can be contracted from a bite or scratch from sick animals like gerbils, mice and other common rodents. Infection can also occur simply by touching an infected animal or consuming food that has had contact with the bacteria. It is not contagious from human to human.
Fatality from “rat-bite fever” is highly uncommon, but has happened. The Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University has only documented 200 cases in the United States, as of 2004. Antibiotics like penicillin usually cure the infection. But in Aidan’s case, the infection was too strong. The family plans to sue Petco, believing the rat from their store caused the death of their 10-year-old son.
“It’s a [way] to ensure” said Attorney John Gomez, “this doesn’t happen again. [There] was some breakdown in procedures. [The parents] want tighter controls.”
The case is coming to light nearly a year later because the Pankey family was awaiting results from the Federal Centers for Disease Control that the rat from Petco was infected with the bacteria. As of Tuesday, the results have not been confirmed.
The lawsuit accuses Petco of not having ensured the health of the animal they sold to the Pankey family. It insists the company was negligent in posting appropriate risks, and this inattention caused the death of Aidan Pankey. However, Petco does post warnings about their rats in stores and on their website. It advises those with weak immune systems, like children and pregnant women, against buying a rat, as they are all potential carriers of the bacteria.
If Petco loses the lawsuit, the company will pay an undisclosed amount of money to the parents of Aidan Pankey for his death caused by “rat-bite fever.” The family’s attorney, Anthony Gomez, said the parents wish to remain out of publicity, but express devastation over their son’s death and hope that their story will raise awareness of this disease.
By Erin P. Friar